|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, all.
**Guests at Noon
Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations; and Jane Holl Lute, Acting Head of the Department of Field Support; will brief on the situation in Sudan.
Over the weekend, a UN humanitarian assessment team went to Haskanita in North Darfur, and reported that the town, which is currently under the control of the Government, was completely burned down, except for a few buildings. The market area had been looted. Few civilians had returned in search of food and water. You can read more about this in the UNMIS Bulletin.
The UN and AU Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, are in the region with an aim to finalizing preparations for the upcoming political negotiations scheduled to start in Libya later this month. Today they are in Addis Ababa, where they are meeting with the Joint Mediation Support Team on the preparations for the upcoming negotiations.
Jan Eliasson is scheduled to proceed to Khartoum tomorrow to meet with Government officials, regional countries, and members of civil society -- the concerned stakeholders on Libya negotiations. Over the weekend, he met with Sudan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Lam Akol, and briefed him on the preparations for the negotiations.
Looking ahead, Jan Eliasson is scheduled to be in New York two weeks from now and will brief the Security Council prior to the onset of the negotiations.
** Georgia -– SG Report
The report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, is out on the racks. In it, he notes that despite relative calm in recent months, the deadly clash that occurred on 20 September is “the most serious incident involving the Georgian and Abkhaz sides in many years.”
He noted that the incident took place outside the area of responsibility of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force. He recommended that areas between the zone of conflict and the Kodori Valley be put under international monitoring, with the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and artillery radar. Noting that UNOMIG’s presence continues to contribute to security in the conflict zone, he recommended that its mandate be extended for six months.
The Security Council this morning held consultations on the work of its sanctions committee operating under resolution 1718, which concerns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The chair of the sanctions committee, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy, briefed the Council on the implementation of the sanctions, which include an arms embargo, as well as an assets freeze and travel ban on certain individuals.
Last Friday afternoon, the Security Council, in a presidential statement, condemned the 3 October attack in Baghdad against the Polish Ambassador to Iraq, which resulted in the wounding of the Ambassador and the killing of two other people. The Council called on the international community to support the Government of Iraq in exercising its responsibility in providing protection to the diplomatic community in Iraq, United Nations staff and other foreign civilian personnel working in Iraq.
The International Court of Justice has just delivered its judgment in the territorial and maritime dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea. In the judgment, which is final, binding and without appeal, the Court found unanimously that Honduras has sovereignty over Bobel Cay, Savanna Cay, Port Royal Cay and South Cay.
A majority of ICJ judges also voted to delineate the starting point of the single maritime boundary that divides the territorial sea, continental shelf and exclusive economic zones of Nicaragua and Honduras.
Another majority of judges ordered that the parties negotiate in good faith with a view to agreeing on the course of the delimitation of their 1906 land boundary and their maritime boundary determined this morning by the Court. We have copies of the full ICJ ruling upstairs.
The UN Refugee Agency says that more than 16,000 Afghans returned to their home country from Pakistan last month, and it adds that the pace of returns is slowing down as winter approaches. Right now, UNHCR says there are about 200 people returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan a day, down from a peak of 12,000 people crossing the border daily during the month of April. So far this year, UNHCR has assisted more than 353,000 Afghans in returning to their homes -– nearly 350,000 of them from Pakistan and more than 5,000 from Iran. We have more details in today’s briefing note from Kabul.
While the Asia-Pacific region as a whole is moving ahead on reaching many of the Millennium Development Goals, some individual countries are still lagging behind. That’s the conclusion of a report, released today by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank, and the UN Development Programme.
The report finds uneven progress between and within countries, with some areas falling behind sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America in reducing extreme poverty, providing universal education and achieving gender parity. It says the region’s greatest challenges are child mortality, malnutrition, maternal health, and the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation. We have more information for you upstairs.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today confirmed the recent arrival of the bluetongue virus in the United Kingdom, which indicates again that animal diseases are advancing rapidly due to globalization, movement of people and goods, tourism and climate change. According to FAO, the virus, which is spread by insects, does not affect humans. Nevertheless, the agency is urging countries to invest more in surveillance, control measures and veterinary services.
Dutch Ambassador Frank Majoor, in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Sierra Leone configuration, is headed to Sierra Leone today to meet with newly-elected President Ernest Bai Koroma and members of his cabinet. Ambassador Majoor will also have meetings with members of Parliament and civil society and with the UN Country Team.
The visit is expected to advance development of a “peacebuilding cooperation framework” with the Sierra Leone government. It will also highlight efforts in areas including good governance, justice and security sector reform, and youth employment. Ambassador Majoor will brief members of the Peacebuilding Commission when he returns to New York on October 15th.
The Secretary-General has appointed Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha of Pakistan as the new Military Adviser, Department of Peacekeeping Operations. General Pasha succeeds acting-Military Adviser General Per Arne Five of Norway. For the last two years, General Pasha has served as the Director-General of Military Operations at the Pakistani Army Central Headquarters, in overall command of army operations inside Pakistan’s borders as well as all peacekeeping deployments. We have more information upstairs.
I will answer your questions right after the briefing by Ms. Lute and Mr. Guéhenno. So we’ll hold off on this and I’ll ask some patience from our spokesperson for the General Assembly. I would like to invite Ms. Lute and Mr. Guéhenno to come up please.
[The guests at the noon briefing then briefed, before the question and answer session.]
I have one statement which I received while waiting. It’s on the territorial and maritime dispute about the International Court of Justice, that has just rendered a judgment, as you know and as I said earlier, the territorial and maritime dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras in the Caribbean Sea. The Secretary-General welcomes the judgment and expresses his trust that the parties will implement it in full. This important judgment illustrates the essential role of the International Court of Justice in peacefully resolving international disputes. This is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. I’ll take your questions now. Yes, Erol?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, in regard of this latest letter from President of ICTY, Fausto Pocar, to whom it is addressed, when it was received and what is it all about and…
Spokesperson: Okay, well…
Question: …and at the end when it is going to be published since we have that experience from the Croatian Prime Minister, it’s still somewhere in the… between the rocks and the earth?
Spokesperson: The Office of the President for the Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia confirmed this morning that the President did send a letter on Friday to both the President of the Security Council and the President of the General Assembly. So those are the people who received that letter. The ICTY President’s letter relates to an earlier letter sent by the Government of Croatia, the one you are referring to, about the Tribunal recent ruling in the case of the so-called Vukovar Three. Both letters are expected to be issued as official documents and until that is done we have no further comments. And you’re right; the other letter is not yet out.
Question: Thank you.
Spokesperson: You’re welcome.
Question: When he spoke to the press, Ibrahim Gambari indicated that he would be willing to go back to Myanmar before the announced date of mid-November. What is the position of the Secretary-General on this, on moving his next visit earlier?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is definitely in favor of moving things forward. If an earlier visit is going to move things forward, then he’s all for it. He definitely has been, as you know, all weekend following the issue and it’s very much on the front burner for him.
Question: Is he actually trying to move it forward or is he waiting…?
Spokesperson: As you know it is in the hands of Mr. Gambari’s office and also the Security Council. As you heard, the Security Council has encouraged Mr. Gambari to go earlier rather than later and we are still in that process. Okay, yes, sir.
Question: I just wanted to ask whether the Secretary-General would be willing to add his voice to the need for the air transport to go specifically to countries that have these capacities to release them at this point? Would the Secretary-General be willing to do that?
Spokesperson: At this point, as you know, the process is moving with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department… the two peacekeeping operations departments, so the process is moving. The Secretary-General, if he gets involved directly, we do so in a quiet way. Okay? Yes, back there.
Question: This is on Myanmar. There have been reports that security forces went to a UN office in Rangoon. Could you tell something about this? And they requested to get the computer material.
Spokesperson: The information we got this morning, in fact, a little earlier, before I came in, no authorities entered any UN premises, no written request to do so or to present any permits have been received by the UN offices in Yangon. What happened this weekend is... this is what I got from there: security forces accompanied by representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were present at the Trader Hotel, which houses several UN offices and other international agencies, as well as businesses. By the way, UNDP and the resident coordinator are not in that hotel. A United Nations official asked the authorities for the purpose of the visit and they responded that they were there to see the permits issued to the United Nations to use satellite equipment. However, this was never pursued, as I said, by any letter or by any request, and no authorities entered the UN premises. Okay? Yes, Jonathan.
Question: Another follow-up on the Darfur situation and I just have another little question. But is the Secretary-General planning, I guess this is sort of a follow-up to what my colleague was asking. Is he planning to go, maybe, to Sudan again to get assurances that everything will be OK this time around once the equipment comes in? I mean Mr. Guéhenno made it seem like when we hit that bridge we’ll deal with it, we’ll see whether the Sudanese are going to have a problem, that Khartoum’s going to have a problem with these light attack helicopters, but that seems a bit half-baked going into this thing. What is the Secretary-General specifically doing to shore up whatever requirements are needed?
Spokesperson: At this point he’s not planning to go back to Sudan. As you can see things are in the process of moving with troop-contributing countries, so the Secretary-General is not planning to go himself back to Sudan until you’re going to have the political negotiations that will take place as both Mr. Guéhenno and Ms. Lute stated. So this process has to go on first and the Secretary-General will intervene when he feels that his intervention is needed to move things forward.
Question: So the October 27 really crucial negotiations are not something that he’s considering participating in or…
Spokesperson: Not directly, no.
Question: I see on the list of events that the Secretary-General is meeting the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. And this fellow has been at the center of some investigation and scandal over a quid pro quo arrangement in which he was voted into that position for exchange of votes and money and deals and things like that. I’m just wondering, is the Secretary-General, Secretary-General Ban going to raise the issue of the controversy surrounding this Secretary-General himself? What is the nature of their…
Spokesperson: I will inform you as soon as… we’ll try to get a readout of the meeting for you. Yes?
Question: I have two follow-ups, then a question. One was on Myanmar, the Times of London story about the computer? It says that there are UN employees in Yangon started, you know, or deleting in expectation that the computers would be taken started deleting names or information. Is that part of this, that UN now denies that?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm that information this morning.
Question: Okay, and also it quotes also Charles Petrie as saying they were asking for permits for Sat phones and quote, “We told them that we will provide them through the appropriate channels.” Are you saying that…
Spokesperson: The appropriate channels would mean a formal letter sent to the United Nations…
Question: …right, okay, alright. The LRA, the Uganda Lord’s Resistance Army has been quoted as saying that the UN in Juba has not come forward with money they thought was promised and for that reason the peace talks are in danger of falling apart. Is there, is there… what does the UN say to that?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to follow up for you on the LRA talks.
Question: This is just a request. It has to do with the USG [Alicia] Barcena whether we can see if we can get her. Remember it had been said earlier that once a month or so she would appear. If we can get her to this press conference.
Spokesperson: I saw her this morning. She says she’s willing to come. I asked her specifically to accompany the person who’s going to talk to you, the head of the Capital Master Plan because I want her to come and talk to you about Capital Master Plan. She’s open to come and talk also about the internal justice system. So we are just waiting for first the CMP to go through the Fifth Committee, of course, before we have an open briefing on this, okay? Thank you. Janos?
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thank you very much for staying. Good afternoon to all of you. I have just a few things to update you on as regards what’s going on with the General Assembly and the committees.
**Interreligious and Intercultural High-Level Dialogue
On Friday I was under the optimistic assumption that the two-day High-level Dialogue on interreligious and intercultural issues would end. It actually over spilled into today, so it ended today. On that we have a statement that is attributable to the spokesman of the President of the General Assembly and it reads as follows:
The President of the General Assembly expresses his appreciation to all Member States and civil society representatives for their support in taking part in the first ever High-level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace held by the General Assembly on 4, 5 and 8 October 2007. The active participation of over eighty Member states, many of them represented by government ministers, underscored the importance countries and individuals attach to the need for dialogue among cultures and religions.
Holding the High-level Dialogue marked an important and timely decision on the part of the General Assembly to address the tensions that exist and to enhance mutually reinforcing efforts at the national, regional and international levels. The event clearly demonstrated that the General Assembly had an important role to carry this dialogue forward. The President notes that the views, statements and proposals voiced during the meeting demonstrated that it is only through dialogue that we can promote unity in diversity and replace misunderstanding with mutual understanding, acceptance and respect for each other. The President believes that the dialogue on Interreligious and Inter-cultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace is an important avenue that can lead to a new culture of international relations based on human rights and security, mutual cooperation and respect for international law.
He notes that the success of such a dialogue rests on the active involvement of all, governments, private sector, civil society, faith groups, NGOs and the media. The President on his part will continue his efforts to engage Member States through the General Assembly to make this dialogue continuous and forward looking.
We have copies of that statement upstairs.
Following the conclusion of the high-level dialogue, the General Assembly continued its plenary session and it took up the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization. The report is A/62/1. As of this morning we had twenty speakers inscribed to take the floor on that subject.
Also on the agenda of today’s plenary is the appointment of members of the Joint Inspection Unit. There is one vacancy to fill on the 11 member body as a result of a resignation. The plenary is supposed to agree on which Member State will nominate a candidate for that vacancy.
And finally, a word on the committees. The Main Committees have started or will start their substantive work today.
The First Committee (which deals with disarmament and international security issues) has begun its general debate on disarmament and international security issues.
The Second Committee (which deals with economic and financial issues) has also started its general debate on all items related to its work.
The Fourth Committee (which is on special political, issues, decolonization issues) will begin its general debate on decolonization issues this afternoon.
Jumping back, Third Committee (which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues) started its work this morning with an organizational session then, it doesn’t have a general debate; it immediately jumps into various different aspects of its agenda. The first will be social development.
Fifth Committee, same thing. It had its organizational meeting on Friday and this morning it began its substantive work. It is looking into the issue of scale of assessment and that has to do this time with article 19, that is the countries which are in arrears and whether they’re allowed to vote or not in the work of the General Assembly.
Sixth Committee again is another committee that jumps into its substantive work already and does not go into a general debate. It started its organizational work this morning and then it will go into immediately its substantive work on Administration of Justice.
That’s all I have for you. Now, any questions that you may have? Please, yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: You mentioned countries that are in arrears in the Fifth Committee. Are there a couple of countries that come to mind that they’re examining?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a list for you, but the list will come out exactly, which are the countries that are in arrears and which are the ones that then will be allowed to vote because the Member States decide that the arrears are because of a reason outside of their own doing and therefore they’ll still be allowed to vote.
Question: The regulations on that, is there some proper guideline on what constitutes some sort of punitive measure to be taken against a nation that is in arrears? Is this all formally…
Spokesperson: The punitive measure is simply that the country will not be allowed to take part in the General Assembly, it will not be allowed to vote in the work of the Assembly. That’s the punitive measure. If any country falls behind payment for two years.
Question: Let’s say in the case of the United States in which there’s now some attempt, a bill to get through Congress to withhold some money of the general budget because of problems with the Human rights Council and concerns over how that’s gone. If the US, just using a hypothetical example, if the US is withholding a few million dollars because of that, does that constitute some sort of argument to enact this regulation?
Spokesperson: I think in the case of the US what you’re looking at is a certain amount of money and not the full amount that is being part of the normal amount of assessments. That’s one aspect and then, of course, there’s also the peacekeeping aspect. Because, of course, there are two aspects of the budget: one that relates to peacekeeping and one that relates to normal functioning of the Organization. This time we’re talking a about the normal, regular budget of the UN. If you accumulate two years of arrears, two full years of arrears, then the issue comes up of whether your right to vote would be taken away or not. But again, there is a discussion, and this is what article 19 is supposed to be about as far as I know, is to look at the reason why you’re not able to pay, or you’re “not willing to pay,” quote, unquote, your dues. Is it because of a reason outside of your possibilities, such as, there was a natural disaster or there was some kind of other reason why and, therefore, it may be decided that you’re exempt from that rule and you will still be allowed to vote because Member States judge that it is beyond your power, your capacity to pay it and therefore still allow you to vote. Or they may judge that, no, you have the means to pay, but you’re not willing to, therefore we’re punishing you by not allowing you to vote.
Spokesperson: But that means we’re talking about two full years, not a little bit of, or maybe even a substantive amount of money owed. It’s two full years. That is how I understand the rules.
Question: Right, but the way it applies, I’m sorry to keep on this, because I know you guys have questions. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this. So if the United States, let’s say, in the case of the Human Rights Council, decides to withhold that money selectively for two years, and although that’s a small fraction of what US contributions are, 22 per cent of the budget of the UN, but still it’s a withholding, do they then fall under this?
Spokesperson: No, because you just said, it’s a certain fraction of the budget. It’s not the full assessment that the US owes. It’s not the full amount of money that the US is supposed to pay to the UN budget. If the US would hypothetically fall behind two full years of its full assessment, then the issue would come up whether to withhold (its voting right) or not.
Question: No, I said, they almost did at one point. They paid like, few days before.
Spokesperson: Well, you see that’s…
Question: … not to be able to vote against, so…
Spokesperson: That’s again another thing you have to ask each and every Member State, how they look at when they’re supposed to pay. We know from the past, you know, because you have been covering this issue for a long time, that the US has a different budget cycle. Ideally the way things work is that you have a two-year budget and Member States are supposed to pay up at the beginning for each year by the end of January. Some Member States do; some Member States don’t. Some Member States pay in full; some pay in portions. That is why we always have the problem of the budget. But, yes, as has been pointed out, some Member States may look at this issue as a way of making sure that they don’t fall behind with two-years of arrears and may pay a certain amount. You have to ask them how, why, etc. But the rules are pretty clear on this. Matthew.
Question: Two questions. One was, there’s a story in the Wall Street Journal today about the procurement task force and that it’s funding may, runs out at the end of the year and may be cut and it’s saying that Singapore is trying to eliminate the… has threatened to not, to block funding for it. It also quotes Stéphane Dujarric as saying this is the decision of… the decision will be up to the General Assembly. So could you, I mean are you aware… I assume from the story that that’s like the Fifth Committee. Are you aware… is this on your radar screen? Can you, if not today, maybe tomorrow, try to say what’s the process for getting the procurement task refunded and whether there is, in fact, opposition?
Spokesperson: I will definitely look into it and get back to you on this, what exactly is meant.
Question: The other thing is there’s this letter out today, or they put it in the racks today, in which the Fremte Polisario has asked to address the Fourth Committee on the Western Sahara? Does that, how long does it take between, I mean, literally it’s just a one-liner, a one-line thing, but it’s not clear to me that… Does the Fourth Committee take requests like that and schedule them, schedule such a presentation, or… what? I guess I’m asking when are they going to testify or does this happen every year and they’re not allowed to testify.
Spokesperson: I’ll look into this particular case, but as far as I know, the way the Fourth Committee works when it talks about, when it takes up the issue of decolonization items, there is a possibility for various, different groups to address it. There is that process built in the work of the Committee, but I’ll let you know if and when how this is going to happen. This is a simple matter. Any other questions, please. Go ahead.
Question: This is just a follow-up to Matthew’s question on the procurement task force. Can you actually make that announcement, or at least clarification, so that more of us than just Matthew can get that information, because it would be quite useful?
Spokesperson: I’ll look into it; I’ll follow up and I’ll let you know exactly what role the General Assembly has in this, what Stéphane meant when he was quoted on this and when exactly the Fifth Committee is going to take that up, if in fact it is something for the Fifth Committee and if, in fact, it is the General Assembly that is supposed to make some kind of decision on this. Yes?
Question: And also in addition just a better understanding of what Singapore is, in fact, what they have asked for and submitted would be quite helpful.
Spokesperson: Yeah, I can certainly do that, but if it relates to a particular Member State then you quite well know that our approach is that you should ask that given Member State what exactly they have in mind. But I’ll follow up from the angle of the President of the General Assembly and from the work of the General Assembly and the various committees where their role may come into this.
Question: Just one addition to that…
Question: Maybe this isn’t… this is not a Singapore question, but it’s a some sort of an update on the status of this guy Andrew Toh. I think that’s at the bottom of it, but if that’s… He’s a UN, maybe it’s a Secretary question or if it’s a General Assembly question, because he’s a Singaporean that was put… there’s some controversy surrounding him and maybe you can mix that into your answer.
Spokesperson: I’ll try that…
Question: Not the controversy…
Spokesperson: I’ll try to mix it in. I’ll follow up and I’ll also check with Michèle and the Secretary-General’s Spokesman’s office whether, to what extent they have been following this issue. Yes.
Question: There’s been some talk about the change from an armistice to some kind of peace treaty with the Inter-Korean Summit and in the discussion of that it’s pointed out that the US is in South Korea under the UN command. Do you understand what role the UN would need to play in changing it from the armistice to a peace treaty?
Spokesperson: I’m sorry; I have to look into that. I don’t have an answer. If there are no more questions, I thank you very much for sticking with me and all the best to you.
* *** *